"How the Jihadists Hijack Charity"
The Globe and Mail Book Review, May 13, 2006.
Since January, when Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, it has attracted the global spotlight. As Hamas leaders assumed governmental responsibilities, they didn't try very hard to hide their true colours. And it didn't take long for the United States, the European Union and Canada to suspend direct aid to the Palestinian Authority. The correctness of this decision was confirmed when Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh subsequently defended a suicide attack in Tel Aviv as a legitimate response to "Israeli aggression." Matthew Levitt's timely and thoroughly researched new book, Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, goes well beyond these tantalizing headlines. It is an important book that will serve the useful function of destroying any illusions readers may have about Hamas being just a non-corrupt version of Yasser Arafat's old kleptocratic Palestinian government.
Levitt, who was recently appointed deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Treasury Department, knows well of what he writes. In addition to having a doctorate in international relations and teaching at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, he directed the terrorism studies program at the Washington Institute and was previously an FBI counterterrorism analyst.
The main contribution of Levitt's work is to expose the schizoid nature of Hamas. He shows exactly how Hamas leaders like Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Yassin and Khaled Mash'al have disingenuously and unscrupulously used Hamas's social wing, which delivers social services to Palestinians, to bolster its military wing, which produces suicide bombers and shoots off Qassam rockets.
Levitt reveals Hamas to be a very nasty organization indeed. Money raised through its charities are used to brainwash children in its schools into becoming suicide bombers, and caches of arms and explosives have even been hidden under its kindergarten playgrounds.
Levitt offers some black comedy, citing the advice that Hamas bought from media consultants on how to improve its image: "Say you are not against Israelis as Jews." "Don't talk about destroying Israel." "Do talk about Palestinian suffering." "Don't celebrate killing people." "Change beard colour." Apparently, the savvy consultants knew that "Stop killing innocent civilians" wasn't what the client was paying $180,000 (U.S.) to hear.
An important question Levitt asks is: Will Hamas target the West? While in his view, it's not very likely that senior Hamas leaders will launch an attack, he is quick to point out that there is always the possibility of attacks on Israeli-Jewish interests in the West, and that rogue cells and lone-wolf attacks certainly can't be controlled.
Alms for Jihad, by J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, is another topical but more specialized book, which provides the most comprehensive look at the web of Islamic charities that have financed conflicts all around the world: Afghanistan, Israel, Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, Indonesia and the Philippines. Burr and Collins, who together have written many books on Islam and Middle East politics, also offer a very good discussion of the philosophy behind and role of the various manifestations of charitable giving in Islam, including zakat, or obligatory almsgiving, sadaqa, or spontaneous gifts, and awqaf, or endowments. As they make clear, the problem is not that charity is distributed to the poor or those in need, but that, according to Islamic law, zakat may be used to finance "jihad in the path of Allah," which includes many distinctly non-charitable elements such as the salaries of mujaheds, arms and supplies.
Alms for Jihad chronicles the way Islamic charities took off with the run-up in the price of oil following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and the role of the Iranian revolution and the war in Afghanistan in fuelling their expansion. Burr and Collins lay out the key role of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states in establishing the foundations and banks at the core of the network of Islamic charities. They explain how institutions such as the International Islamic Relief Organization, the Muslim World League and World Association of Muslim Youth have helped to spread a radical Wahabi and Salafi form of Islam that spawned groups like al-Qaeda. They name the 20 prominent, wealthy Arabs --with a collective net worth of $85-billion -- who are known within al-Qaeda as their "Golden Chain."
Both books have interesting sections tracing the links between the Council on American Islamic Agencies (CAIR) and Hamas. They also mention CAIR-affiliated people who have been prosecuted on terrorism charges in the United States. CAIR is closely related to CAIR-Canada, an organization that is much sought after by the Canadian media and governments for commentary on issues of concern to Muslims.
Burr and Collins stress the need for vigilance. "Trust, but verify," they counsel, but unfortunately they don't provide much basis for "trust." Following an earlier review of Islamic charities in North America, they starkly conclude, "Virtually every major Islamic charitable institution in the USA and Canada . . . had been infiltrated by Islamists."
One of the problems with writing a book like Hamas is that people expect the author to come up with a magic solution. Levitt is well aware of the crying need for social services among poor Palestinians, who number almost half the population and who have come to rely on Hamas. He proposes that these services should instead be provided by other charities run by moderate Palestinians, Israel and international donors, and that Hamas fronts should be squeezed out by cutting off funding. The obvious problem with this is that Western donors don't fund Hamas, Muslim governments and charities do. And as long as they're willing to support Hamas, the jihad will continue.
Levitt also acknowledges that increased aid alone is not the answer without a crackdown on terrorism. The Palestinian Authority has been the world's largest per-capita recipient of foreign aid ever, with some of the worst results. He cites a 2003 World Bank study that argues that even a doubling of aid would only have a small impact on poverty, and that "the key to the revival of the Palestine economy . . . was the removal of internal closures and the facilitation of Palestinian exports." Of course, this would require a crackdown on terrorism and the restoration of security. But given that the Wall has proved itself to be Israel's greatest defence against terrorist attacks (successful suicide attacks fell by 75 per cent in 2004 compared to 2002), why would Israel ever agree to take it down?
Fast-moving events have already bypassed Levitt's proposed solutions. The suspension of $1-billion in financial assistance to the PA by the United States, the European Union and Canada has already created an economic crisis in the West Bank and Gaza, where, according to Levitt, the PA employs 26 per cent of those working and pays 40 per cent of wages. Anxious to stave off the looming collapse of the Palestinian economy, the quartet of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. announced on May 9 their willingness to bail out the Palestinian Authority. It thus looks as if the Palestinians are going to be insulated at least temporarily from the consequences of electing as their government a party committed to jihad.
* The Cambridge University Press agreed in August 2007 to destroy all unsold copies of this book in response to a British libel action by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim A. Bin Mahfouz who claims that the book wrongly implicates him in the financing of terrorism. This excellent and informative book is, consequently, no longer for sale through normal channels. It is most unfortunate that people like Mahfouz can use their vast wealth to take advantage of the strict libel laws in effect in Great Britain to intimidate those who have important things to say about terrorism.
Patrick Grady is the author of a novel entitled Royal Canadian Jihad, a recent novel about Canadian Islamic terrorists.